Historic agreement between Heineken and former Congolese workers seeking remedy in labour rights dispute
Heineken and factory workers previously employed by Heineken’s Congolese subsidiary, Bralima, have reached an agreement after 168 of the workers filed a complaint against the Dutch beer brewer for abuses of the workers’ rights. The complaint alleged Heineken had breached human rights standards outlined in the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises and sought remedy in the form of monetary compensation. Details of the agreement, which was facilitated by the Dutch National Contact Point (NCP), are to remain confidential, but all parties describe the outcome as satisfactory. Netherlands-based SOMO and Congo-based Afrewatch, both members of the OECD Watch network, supported and advised the workers throughout the process.
“This result is historic because agreements in OECD Guidelines complaints seeking remedy are rare,” explained Joseph Wilde-Ramsing, Coordinator of OECD Watch. “This important outcome is a result of tireless efforts by the workers in asserting their rights and demanding the remedy they are due, responsible engagement by Heineken, and professional handling of the complaint by the Dutch NCP. This case reveals the potential of NCPs to provide effective access to remedy and help resolve disputes between companies and communities if NCPs are adequately resourced and backed by sufficient political will.”
Alleged labour and human rights abuses
The complaint, which was filed with the Dutch NCP in October 2015, alleged that Bralima abused the human rights of 168 workers in its Bukavu factory in the period 1999-2003 by unjustly dismissing them and by cooperating with the rebel movement RCD-Goma, which negatively impacted the workers and their families. According to the complaint, Bralima took advantage of a period of political turmoil in the DRC to quickly dismiss a large number of employees without authorisation from the competent labour authority, but from the rebel movement RCD-Goma instead. The employees dismissed en masse were replaced by temporary workers. As Bralima’s parent company, the workers claimed that Heineken had or should have had knowledge of the situation and should have used its influence to prevent the abuse of the workers’ rights. In failing to do so, the workers held Heineken responsible and demanded that Heineken compensate them for the harm done.
Professional, accessible NCP facilitates dispute resolution
After deeming the complaint admissible, the Dutch NCP initiated a process of fact-finding and mediation, with Heineken and the workers agreeing to participate in good faith. Between January and August 2017, the NCP facilitated dialogue meetings between the parties at the Dutch embassies in Uganda and France, and Heineken met separately with the workers on two occasions. Crucially, the Dutch NCP made itself fully accessible to the complainants throughout the process by translating all key documents and facilitating their travel, allowing them to participate where they otherwise would not have been able. This is a rare instance of a government keeping its promise to have an accessible NCP, which was a key success factor in the case.
Though the details of the ultimate agreement remain confidential, all parties indicate that they are satisfied with the outcome. John Namegabe Bugabo, one of the former employees:
“For many years, we have sought remedy for abuses of our rights, and we are very happy with the outcome of this mediation. We thank Heineken for their willingness to resolve the issues we raised, the Dutch NCP and external mediator for facilitating the process professionally, and SOMO and Afrewatch for their assistance.”
As part of the agreement, Heineken has committed to improving its policy and practices on doing business in volatile and conflict-affected countries. An evaluation of the implementation of the agreement will be conducted in mid-2018.
More information on the case, including the text of the complaint and the NCP’s final statement, can be found in the database of OECD Watch(opens in new window) .
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